Category Archives: Music

Alienating your Audience


I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.




A song to think about

Back in the 90’s, the first Sweet Relief album was produced to provide money to cover desperately needed medical care for Victoria Williams’s MS care. One of the songs covered on that cd was covered, in fact, by the Jayhawks, a member of whom was at that time Victoria’s spouse.

I was listening to the CD today and this song in particular reminded me of why I do what I do, and whether or not I remember to cherish the things that I’ve made that aren’t what I perhaps wanted them to be.

Listen. Enjoy.


Hmmm . . . .

So, I was reading “Point, Counter Point” this evening and the point of view character mentioned a poem by Shelley that I hadn’t read. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, and wireless networking, my daughter was able to look up the poem and hand the laptop to me . . . within moments.

It’s sometimes hard to remember how it was before the interwebz. I’ve tried to think of some of the most useful things that it has brought us but I don’t think of, say, the advances in communication between scientists and doctors, leading to better medical care, or of the millions helped by our increased awareness of global crisis points and our ability to respond to them quickly.


I think about how useful it is to look up song titles and artists, when all you know is one line of the song.

I think about how online Scrabble and other web games have given bored housewives something of a life.

Chatrooms and messenger services, introducing people who’d never otherwise connect with each other.

Endless pages of medical maladies to page through and convince yourself that you have.

More recipes than you can ever cook.

And so on.

There was an article in the news today, talking about 4 ways the Internet could go down. They didn’t exactly offer solutions for the problems, either. Just gloom and doom, we will have no internets.

I really hope that we don’t lose it.

Can you imagine having to call a radio station again and beg them to tell you the name of a song?

Never again, brothers and sisters. Never again.



Energizer bunny . . . not

One of my dad’s favorite sayings is that he’s just like the Energizer Bunny . . . he keeps going and going, even when life throws more problems at him.

I could use a little recharging, I gotta admit.

I have, however, started plugging away at the Novel again. I’m at 90,000 words, finally. I think another 10k should finish it off. My main characters are ticked off at each other and covered in blood, so you know things aren’t going well. By the end, they should be on better terms, but you never know. Real life people are unpredictable. Fictional characters aren’t much better. Just when you think you understand them, they decide to develop FEELINGS and PROBLEMS.

Stupid fragmented pieces of my psyche, anyway.

It’s been too hot outside to do anything, so my daughter and I sat and watched “Amadeus” on Netflix. I think they could have cut it by 2/3 and it would have made an admirable short film. As it was, it dragged. Yes, the acting, the acting . ..  but most of the scenes of someone conducting could have been drastically cut and it would have helped decrease the sensation that one somehow wandered into an opera instead of a cinema.

I like opera music, but I’ve never sat through an entire performance. Still, there are some songs that I just adore. So, since I am a lazy bunny today, you’re getting the list of songs I love. 🙂

Amazing stuff. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to play some opera music and get some work done. Today, it was downtime. Tomorrow, well, it’s Friday . . . I’ll be energized just because of that!

Transparent tunes

I read a blog post recently that left me pretty confused. The blogger was worrying that, by giving her friend her iPod to use, she was exposing too much of herself to her friend. The song lists she’d made (she felt) were too personal, too intimate.

I’m not sure how a song list could expose too much of yourself, since songs are largely written by other people and you’re using their words and music to cultivate certain feelings in yourself. Songwriters . . . yes, I can see how a song could be too intimate for them to let other people see it. If it’s a good song, though, they’re going to probably use it anyway. Artists are a subset of the “oldest profession” . . . if you know what I mean. 😉

I suppose that your feelings could be too secret to be exposed. If you’re listening to a playlist named after your spouse or significant other and it’s filled with the ANTI- VALENTINE’S DAY PLAYLIST songs, well . . . we’re going to get a pretty detailed picture of what we suppose your feelings are about that person. Maybe you love the songs for some ironic reason related to your courtship, but it seems pretty likely that you’re just REALLY pissed off at them right now.

The usual songs that we treasure as part of our courtships, though, are usually pretty mundane– the music that was playing on the radio at that time, music from a jukebox (for the older folks), the song that was playing at the dance or party, the cd you had playing non-stop in your car that month. The music that speaks to me about my husband is from the early 1990s as a simple result of that being the time period where we fell in love. I still can’t listen to Chris Isaak without thinking about my hubs. There are other songs layered on top of those, meaningful songs to us, but what would it say about me if you knew the titles? Knowing that he introduced me to Audioslave through “Be Yourself” doesn’t tell you what was happening at the time any more than knowing that I was often wearing those annoying little shrug sweaters that were so “in” in 2005.

So I make my playlists public, and I don’t usually worry that anyone will glean anything important from it. There are so many songs stuck in my head– my kids complain that I can sing a different song for every possible topic they mention. And I do, which is the annoying part.

But my life is marked by the musical boundaries of the time period I lived in. I’ve been singing the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson duet “Say Say Say” over the past few days. I don’t like either artist, I don’t like the song, but the stupid thing wore a groove into my brain because my mom played it for a month straight when I was 10 and she was having her turning-30 crisis. I’m sure that my kids will have the same thing happen to them when they get older. Already, the baby thinks that Audioslave is lullaby music, not rock music. He hears the songs and ZONK, he’s asleep, because I listened to it constantly when he was a babe in arms.

I’m not afraid that I’m too transparent through my musical choices. My writing . . . now that’s a different matter. 🙂